The Ecclesiastical Controversy (Compendium Included)



Why do they call Rogue One a “stand-alone” movie? Well….How do I put this delicately, without spoiling the movie for you, if you haven’t seen it?

The likable male and female leads, apparently in love, share an embrace at the movie’s end. Perhaps they whisper to each other “till death do us part.” But at that point in the great Star-Wars narrative, the Death Star exercises its power, and, well…let’s put it this way: “till death” ain’t very long in this case, and dead people generally don’t appear in sequels. Ergo, this film stands alone.

Also: Dead people don’t have sex. Maybe that sounds morbid. But our Lord Jesus made a point of highlighting that fact (Matthew 22:30) And I believe the inevitable celibacy of the dead can put a lot of things into proper perspective…

…Now, most people do not find Roman Synods particularly interesting. And even fewer people have the patience to read ecclesiastical documents of over 250 pages.

amoris-laetitia-coverI daresay most Catholics don’t even know that we have a Church “controversy” going on right now. But, in point of fact, we do.

Of what do we dispute in this ecclesiastical controversy? you ask.

A group of cardinals expressed doubts about the meaning of our Holy Father’s latest formal teaching document, the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation called Amoris Laetitia, “The Joy of Love.”

Actually these Eminences expressed doubts about just a few paragraphs. Like this one:

It is reductive simply to consider whether or not an individual’s actions correspond to a general law or rule, because that is not enough to discern and ensure full fidelity to God in the concrete life of a human being. (Amoris Laetitia 304)

The Cardinals express their doubt about how to interpret this:

Does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II that emphasizes that conscience can never be authorized to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts? …For those proposing the creative idea of conscience, the precepts of God’s law and the norm of the individual conscience can be in tension or even in opposition… (Doubt #5, and Explanatory Note. )

The cardinals raise a pertinent question. And I find Fr.Antonio Livi’s ambivalence about Amoris Laetitia even more penetrating, because it takes into account the distinction between external law and internal conscience in the life of the pilgrim Church:

Here [in paragraph 304] the discourse [of Amoris Laetitia] is even more ambiguous, because it voluntarily confuses the “external” evaluation of the moral situation of the conscience of the faithful with their “internal” situation before God: the condition of the individual’s conscience flees the human eye, even that of the spiritual director or confessor, and the authority of the Church is not called to give judgment on the conscience (“de internis neque Ecclesia iudicat” — the Church does not judge what is internal). Therefore the evaluation of the external, that which remains evident to the eyes of men, is what is enough for a merely prudential judgment which does not pretend to be absolute and definitive but concerns the duty of the ecclesiastic authority of recognizing the external behavior of men conformed to the verbal law as just and to sanction the unjust ones.

If you’ve read this weblog for a while, you know that these questions have pre-occupied me for some time. So I present to you a little compendium of my writings over the past 2 1/2 years on the great “communion-for-the-divorced” controversy. Consider it a Solstice-Day gift.

Click the links and dive in, as you like. I think you might find the Cardinals’ dubia, and the questions raised by the venerable doctors Grisez and Finnis (which you can read by clicking here) hidden in my musings. But I have tried to tackle things from my own ponderous, even lugubrious, goofball-existentialist perspective…

First, the historical context in which I, for one, see the Synod on the Family, and its aftermath. I called it “the Synod of Tweets” because the Catholic-press news coverage rarely penetrated beyond the 140-keystroke limit, and because many Synod Fathers tweeted their way through the whole thing, leaving us wondering how they possibly could have listened to all the speeches. Also: I tried to present the recent-historical context, which involves the early career of a great hero.

In the fall of 2014, I wanted to give a speech on honesty, if only I could have had the Synod floor myself.

Next, I raised some questions I have about the holy-communion controversy…

  1. Does the distinction ‘law vs. mercy’ really makes sense? (Also, divine laws against whitened sepulchers).
  2. Does giving yourself an annulment make sense? PS. Alanis Morrisette sings the rationale for marriage law.
  3. Does it make sense for Germans to try to turn the Catechism into bilge-water? With a good answer from Nova et Vetera

I tried to coach everyone through any confusion they experienced following the Synod. I heartily advised walks.

How about a spiritual context? I gave a homily on mercy and promises, and a homily on loving prudently.

princeThen our Holy Father gave us his very, very long Apostolic Exhortation. It has a lot in it, but not everything. It has the teaching of St. ThereseAmerica magazine made a super-lame video about it, and Prince unwittingly sang about it.

Now we find ourselves ready for Christmas 2016, and many internet enthusiasts see this as a moment of great crisis in the Catholic Church. Meanwhile, most Catholics hardly know anything about any of this; the Redskins’ crisis impinges more directly on our daily lives.

I will certainly have much more to say. (For instance, CLICK HERE for a sermon on “pastoral accompaniment”. Or HERE for one about erring on the side of obedience.) I believe that carefully reading Amoris Laetitia will inspire and inform us. I intend to lead an adult-ed study, here at St. Andrew’s in Roanoke, early in AD 2017.

I think studying the Catechism also will help us. And studying the Holy Bible. Studying the teaching we have received from our loving God.

IMHO, this controversy is actually not much of an ecclesiastical controversy for the 21st century. After all, I think it comes down to is this: Do we human beings need to submit our minds to God’s teaching? Do we receive the teaching of the Church for what it truly is? Namely, God’s kind, thorough, and wise instruction of His beloved children?

This was a controversy within the Church for our parents and grandparents. Catholics questioning Church teaching is a 20th century thing. Catholics did that, I guess, because 20th-century man rejected Divine Revelation, on the grounds that submitting to it meant humiliating one’s great human self beneath one’s dignity. But then St. John Paul II came along and pointed out to everyone that no one can achieve greater dignity than: sonship in the Son, Jesus Christ, God made man.

We still need time, of course, to reflect more deeply on the mystery of the Incarnation, and the Church’s communion with God Incarnate. But I think the 20th-century controversy about humble, obedient faith demeaning the human soul has long since fallen by the wayside, at least among Catholics. We know perfectly well that we do not have God’s intelligence.

In the 21st century, we Catholics do not expect the Church as a human institution to be perfect. We perceive that God reveals Himself through Her, in spite of Her limitations on the human level. So any “tension” between the Church’s rules and my supposedly liberated conscience? It really just doesn’t exist. To the contrary, I know that my adherence to the Church’s clear guidance is what allows me to live a genuinely free life–free of all the other nonsense that this world throws at me to try to entrap me in its misery.

In other words, my obedience within the great family that is the Catholic Church ensures my freedom from all pagan slaveries–especially the cruel slavery of imagining that I’m utterly on my own when it comes to having a relationship with God. After all, I will face Him in death sooner or later. And the Church has laws precisely to help me prepare for that inevitable day.

Amoris laetitia Catena and Comments

Our Holy Father, in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, on the marriage vows of husband and wife…

The lasting union expressed by the marriage vows is more than a formality or a traditional formula; it is rooted in the natural inclinations of the human person. (para. 123)

The meaning and value of their physical union is expressed in the words of consent, in which they accepted and offered themselves each to the other, in order to share their lives completely.  Those words give meaning to the sexual relationship and free it from ambiguity. (para. 74)

amoris-laetitia-coverVows free sexual relationships from ambiguity.  If I do say so, these sentences remind me of the speech about Coriolanus and Hamlet that I wanted to give at the Synod.

If we’re going to have sex, we human beings, we must do so honestly.  (Otherwise, we practice ritual scarification on our own souls.)

Often, unchastity involves out-and-out dishonesty.  Sometimes, though, “ambiguity” says it better.  Couples who intend to marry sometimes have sex too soon.  Which doesn’t involve the kind of dishonesty we usually condemn by using the word fornication.

By the same token:  without a vow of lifelong fidelity, sex–even between two people thoroughly “in love”–remains cruelly ambiguous.

Holy Father’s word to fiancees:

Have the courage to be different. Don’t let yourselves get swallowed up by a society of consumption and empty appearances.

What is important is the love you share, strengthened and sanctified by grace. You are capable of opting for a more modest and simple celebration in which love takes precedence over everything else. (para. 212)

… Holy Father urges spouses to read, pray, and otherwise expand their horizons, in order to avoid “trivial and boring conversations, dialogue without something to say.” (para. 141)

Continue reading Amoris laetitia Catena and Comments”

Coach’s Attempt at Clarity (in the Synod Aftermath)

“Father, when you talk you sound like a coach.”

Thank you.

We all play, all the time, the most challenging and sublime of all sports: getting to heaven.

The moral law never struck me as rocket science. God comes first. No sacrileges, swearing, disrespecting legitimate authorities, killing, adultery, stealing, lying, lusting, or being greedy.

The Sixth Commandment binds neither more nor less than any other commandment. That said, the Sixth Commandment certainly means: Husband and wife lovingly conceiving babies = good, sex otherwise = bad.

Raymond Arroyo interviewed one of the prominent Synod-on-the-Family Fathers last week. “Two different Cardinals interpret paragraph 86 in polar-opposite ways, Your Eminence. One says divorced-and-remarried can receive Holy Communion without an annulment. The other says no way. Explain, please.”

moses_ten_commandmentsRaymond’s expression, as the Archbishop of Washington replies that disagreements like this “are just a part of life”–priceless.

Here’s the thing: We priests need to know what we are about when we hear people’s confessions. People sin against the commandments all the time. People sin against the Sixth Commandment all the time. God forgives. Christ shed His Precious Blood so that we could be forgiven.

That said, in order to give absolution, we confessors have to hear a resolution like this: “I’m sorry I did it, and I won’t do it again.” One of the fundamental ‘dynamics’ of a confession, if you will.

Now, as noted above, sex is either 1) marital or 2) sinful. Between “I’m married to him/her” or “I am not married to him/her,” we do not find any middle categories. I really do not intend here to wax rhetorical. And Lord please preserve me from being obtuse. For me, this is a purely practical matter. The question simply is: How is a priest supposed to give absolution to someone who confesses sex outside of marriage, but does not intend to stop?

Yes: Plenty of people receive Holy Communion without also practicing the equally important habit of going to Confession regularly. And maybe some people exercise “discernment in conscience” about their marital status without going to a priest to confess. I have nothing to say about any of that, other than: Everyone should go to confession once a month. (I try not to make it my business to judge the actions of people who don’t ask me to judge them.)

But I feel like I am completely missing something when high-ranking prelates suggest that maybe I could handle penitents somehow differently…??? Doesn’t a penitent’s marital status determine everything, when it comes to the Sixth Commandment? And doesn’t it really go without saying that neither the penitent nor I have the authority to settle disputes about someone’s marital status?

I don’t think I exaggerate if I say: If either the penitent or I thought that we could unilaterally annul marriages, then we really might as well not bother with the business of a confession in the first place. After all, have I not received the authority to absolve sinners because of a public ceremony in front of an altar involving an irrevocable commitment on my part? If public commitments, entered into as acts of religion, do not really bind, then… well… ah… consecuencias muy malas.

“Pastoral accompaniment,” “reaching out,” “emphasizing mercy.” What do these shibboleths mean? I enjoy visiting people in their homes; I enjoy sitting and talking at coffee hours. I have never refused Holy Communion to any adult who approached either with hands folded and mouth open, or with two hands open and ready.

But if someone comes to confession and mentions having sex outside of marriage, what am I supposed to say? You have to make a decision to live without that, at least until it’s not a sin anymore. What kind of coach would I be, if I said anything else?

I think that, perhaps, the more genuinely merciful thing for us to say, when we speak about things like divorce, would be:

We believe marriage is for life. We believe in big families. The world might greet divorce with a ho hum. But we weep. The world might think weddings mainly mean clothes, cake, and photos. But we think a wedding means an unbreakable covenant with the Lord of life.

Also, when we human beings recognize that the game we play ends with death, and we win by getting to heaven, then whether or not I get to have sex with this or that person right now becomes a matter of relative insignificance.

PS. I still think the most truly and fundamentally confusing thing that has happened in decades/centuries is what happened on February 11, 2013. If we find ourselves confused now, it’s because somebody took a liberty that does not really belong to us shepherds, on that particular day.

Also, my man Ross Douthat can count me in as one of his spear-chuckers on the 21st-century R.C. battlefield.

“Apostolic,” Leaven, Synod Aftermath

We keep the feast of the Apostles Simon and Jude Thaddeus. Saints Simon and Jude ventured into what is now Iran. They taught the Zoroastrians about Christ. And about the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

One, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. “Apostolic” means three things at once:

El Greco St. Jude
El Greco St. Jude

1. We believe that Jesus Himself founded our Church by choosing the Twelve Apostles.

2. We believe that the Holy Spirit infallibly guides the Church to keep and hand on the original teaching that Jesus gave the Apostles.

We have a New Testament, the 27 documents we read over and over, precisely because of this work of the Holy Spirit. The Apostles, and men the apostles knew, wrote the New Testament.

That is, God wrote the New Testament, through the authorship of some of the original members of our Church.

3. We believe that the ministry of the apostles continues to this day, and will continue until the end of time, because the apostles’ successors in office continue to exercise the same ministry. The Pope and bishops, assisted by priests and deacons, continue the work of the original Apostles.

In other words: Baptism into Christ, Confirmation, the ministry of Jesus’ Body and Blood at the holy altar, the power to forgive confessed sins: none of these are abstract things. They involve particular people—divine gifts being bestowed on particular people. The Apostles and their successors form the trunk and branches of our Catholic family tree. As Pope Francis put it: “a Christian without the Church is incomprehensible.”

Thank you, Lord, for making us a part of this family that hopes for eternal life!

Here’s a word about the parable of the leaven, which we read at Holy Mass yesterday:

The Kingdom of God is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch of dough was leavened. (Luke 13:21)

The mustard seed growing into a big tree: visible. But the leaven that gets worked through the dough, starting a hidden chemical process: invisible—at least until the end of the process, when the bread comes out of the oven.

Unleavened bread can be good, no doubt. Who doesn’t like Middle-Eastern food? But when you’re really hungry… When the house gets filled with the aroma of bread baking in the oven… I mean, yeah.

But the yeast of the kingdom lies hidden until the end of the process. Inside us: the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the mildness, mercifulness, and zeal of the Beatitudes, the endurance of faith, the sweetness of hope for the fulfillment of all things—helping other souls by our trying to give good example: That will make the whole house of God smell good.

Meanwhile, things have gotten genuinely fun in the world of Synod-of-Bishops aftermath.

My man Ross Douthat publicly scolded. The bar scene from “Good Will Hunting” invoked.*

Meanwhile, just came across a letter to the Synod Fathers (other than the one I signed), which I sure wish I had had the chance to sign!

*Warning: A couple bad words.

Back to the Future: Nemo iudex in propria causa

SynodI avoid Church politics whenever I can. But two sentences, written by Ross Douthat, offer too much insight for me to resist. Regarding the Synod on the Family, Douthat wrote:

The entire situation abounds with ironies. Aging progressives are seizing a moment they thought had slipped away, trying to outmaneuver younger conservatives who recently thought they owned the Catholic future.

Regarding paragraphs 84-86 of the final Synod report, which outline the so-called “opening” to Holy Communion in second marriages: ambiguity does not help us very much, as the New York Times has somehow managed to point out clearly.

The “internal forum solution” first made an appearance when the “aging progressives” were young. The idea is:

I make a marriage vow. Time does not give it proof. I find myself married to someone else. I conclude in my heart of hearts that my first marriage vow never really bound me.

Instead of petitioning the Church for a declaration of nullity (a declaration based on objective evidence and the testimony of witnesses), I effectively grant myself an annulment internally, in the confessional, and the priest accepts my judgment.

marriage_sacramentI don’t mean to offend anyone by lampooning this. Many people have endured much pain, and no one should make light of it.

But the internal-forum approach smacks of danger: the danger of rationalization, in the service of self-justification.

In fact, the supreme authority of the Church has rejected the “internal-forum solution.” In 1994. (Re-iterated in 1998.)

And rejected not with simply an authoritarian ‘non placet.’ Rejected with what appear to me to be unassailable arguments:

1. Marriage is not a private business, but a public one.

2. The legal procedure for petitioning for an annulment provides the fair opportunity for expressing one’s conviction that a prior vow does not bind, according to objective criteria. Other parties to the matter get their chance to speak, too.

3. Nemo iudex in propria causa: No one can objectively judge his own case.

My question is: With clear guidance from the Apostolic See having already been given, what priest in good conscience could change anything at this point? Advise someone to approach Holy Communion, or even remain silent when the matter is laid before you, without first exhorting the penitent to avoid what is unlawful in the current relationship and practice chastity as friends in the Lord instead? Like the NYT says, ambiguity doesn’t really do anyone any good here.

Of course, we await any further guidance the chief shepherds decide to give. And, let’s remember, no one I know makes a habit of refusing Holy Communion to people who appear to know how to receive. In the end, this whole business really is a matter of conscience, since there are no Holy-Communion Police.

But I can’t see how a priest who tries to follow the rules could regard #Synod15 as a mandate to change anything.

The Synod of Tweets

Whenever an October Synod of Bishops meets, I try to pay even more attention than usual to the MLB playoffs.

Leo made a great Gatsby
I’m for the Mets, since their home field sits right where the Eckleburg sign once glowered over the Long-Island highway, in F. Scott Fitzgerarld’s imagination.

Anyway…Ever visited Rome? To visit the churches of Rome means entering into a living memory that extends back two millennia.

I think we can justifiably say that the most memorable thing that has happened in Rome so far in the 21st century was the funeral of St. John Paul II. In the 20th century, Vatican II. On second thought, Pope Pius XII rushing across town to comfort the people in the bombed neighborhoods during WWII–pretty memorable also.

The nineteenth century saw the burning and reconstruction of the Basilica over St. Paul’s tomb. The sixteenth: St. Ignatius Loyola, Michelangelo. Before that, the return of the papacy to Rome and the Lateran Councils. Going back even further: the papacies of Gregory and Leo the Greats. And, even further back, the martyrdoms of Sts. Peter and Paul, and countless other heroes who died at the hands of merciless pagans.

The authority of the Roman pontiff comes from God Himself, in the Person of Christ, establishing the office. For most of the history of the Apostolic See, that authority has been exercised primarily by settling disputed cases and questions.

A visitor to the Vatican Museums can admire paintings of some of the great gatherings of bishops that have left their mark on posterity–by clarifying things: the Council at Nicaea, the Council at Ephesus, and at Trent.

During the fifty years since Pope Paul VI erected the current Synod-of-Bishops routine, the Synod has met many times. One of those meetings involved a discussion which led to a thoroughly memorable enterprise: the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The 2015 Synod of Tweets? History will be the judge. My money is on the World Series this year being considerably more memorable.

…Supposedly, one Synod bishop said that, in our contemporary world, two perennial pastoral axioms no longer apply. If that were really true, I would find myself quite at a loss. Because they are two of the basic rules I try to live by:

1. Love the sinner, hate the sin.

2. A priest should be a lion in the pulpit and a lamb in the confessional.

Mercy and Promises

The man in the parable sleeps and rises night and day. Time passes. The seed in his field sprouts and grows. Then, with time, it yields fruit. The blade, the ear, the full grain in the ear. The farmer knows not how. He is neither a biochemist, nor a botanist, nor a horticulturalist. He’s a small-scale agribusinessman.

Ljubljana Cathedral, Slovenia
Ljubljana Cathedral, Slovenia

We hail the merciful God. St. Thomas Aquinas insisted that God, above all, is merciful. Yes, the idea that God executes justice, that no injustice escapes His notice and His reckoning–that’s a rock-solid truth. But: There would be nothing, literally nothing, if it were not for God’s mercy. Creation itself occurred not because God is just, but because He is merciful.

Allow me to illustrate this abstraction, if I may. You visit a big city, take a cab ride. At the end of the ride, you say to the driver, “Thanks for the lift. What do I owe ya?” Or: Pipe breaks, water pouring out over the living room floor. Plumber comes on an emergency call, fixes the broken pipe. “Thanks for saving our hardwood floors. What do we owe you?”

Feel me? Remuneration for service rendered, a matter of justice. Well, what are we going to say to our Creator, when we reckon with the fact that we exist, thanks to Him? Are we going to say to our Lord and Creator, “Hey, thanks. For making me out of nothing. Thanks for Your service of giving me being. What do I owe You?” We don’t have that kind of money in our wallets. There can be no equitable, just re-payment for God’s creating us out of nothing.

Ergo: Mercy came before justice. God had everything and needed nothing. He foresaw all of history, even before He set it in motion. He foresaw that He Himself would have to suffer and die as a man, in order for man to be just in His sight. But He decided to bring everything that exists into existence anyway. Because He loves. Because He is greater, bigger, more generous, more giving–boundlessly full of goodness to give.

Point is: Things grow and flower. We grow and flower. We know not how. It’s the mysterious infinite mercy of God.

In my early 20s, I taught at a middle-school in inner-city Baltimore. Not to mince words: The building shook daily with the testosterone surges of potentially dangerous street punks. I came up with a motto for our little experimental Catholic school. “If, at the end of the day, everyone is still alive, it was a success.”

God has this thing about giving us tomorrow. He keeps giving us tomorrow, for precisely as long as we need Him to. Tomorrow is the consummate expression of the mercy of God. Because tomorrow I can do better. If I need to go to Confession, I can go. If I need to apologize to someone, I can. If today was the first time I ever prayed, then I can do it again tomorrow and grow even closer to God. The omnipotent mercy of God has deigned that time is on our side. The Devil always tries to rush us into doing evil. God can afford to wait, patiently, as we learn to do good.

taxicabIf you read Catholic newspapers or watch EWTN, you know that some people say that the Church would show more mercy by allowing divorce and second marriages. This fall the famous Synod on the Family will meet again, and the bishops at the Synod may discuss this. I don’t know too much about it, because I don’t watch EWTN, just ESPN.

To me, the idea of saying, “The lifetime promises you made–forget about them”–that does not strike me as merciful at all. Now, granted: sometimes people make promises without knowing what they’re saying. That’s a different case. “Were you sober when you made that promise?” “No.” Well, that’s different. And that’s a subject for a private conversation with Father.

Our life-long commitments make us who we are. On May 13, 2001, I solemnly promised to live as a celibate man for the rest of my life. I was as sober as a brick. Now, if Doris Burke–of ESPN–if Doris Burke showed up here, and tried to put the moves on me… If she showed up here, looking to chip a chalice, as they say. A leggy blonde sports nerd… (Kidding.)

Truth is, none of us live-up perfectly to the solemn promises we have made. After all, when we were baptized or confirmed, we promised to renounce sin altogether and live purely for God. But we have had our lapses.

So the merciful God gives us another day. Not another day to pretend like I never made any promises. But another day when we have the chance to try to live more faithfully in accord with our promises.

Night and day, we sleep and rise. Things grow; in our hearts and souls they grow, we know not how. One day to come–provided we are there to see it, by the mercy of God–the fruits of His love will be entirely ours.

He is Alive + Germans on the Synod + Blue Bloods Sexual Morality

SynodRoman procurator Porcius Festus recounted the facts with perfect simplicity. “A certain Jesus had died. Paul claims he is alive.”

In all honesty: What could possibly galvanize us more than this deadpan account of the situation in Acts 25?

Who are we? Are we not the people who claim that this certain Jesus, who had died, is alive?

Fifty years ago, pope convened the Second Vatican Council to help us get back to this utter simplicity. Lots of smart Germans came to Rome. And the newspapers and magazines buzzed with Vatican-II gossip.

Some of us might get the feeling that we’re right back in the early 1960’s again, when it comes to Catholic-Church gossip. Because of all the smart Germans and the Synod on the Family.

There is a somewhat-famous letter to the Synod Fathers, signed by a few hundred American priests. I signed it. We signatories urge the Synod to re-iterate the fundamental teachings that—at least to me—seem obviously to go hand-in-hand with saying that Jesus is alive. Namely, that God gave us marriage the way He gave it to us, that everyone should go to Confession, resolve to sin no more, and strive to live chastely according to one’s state in life.

…I give the German Bishops Conference credit for publishing thoughtful responses to the Holy See’s Synod-preparation questions. I, for one, thank the Germans for publishing an English translation.

The Catholic press has highlighted some of what the German Bishops have written. To my mind, though, these two following passages most require meditation and a response:

1. The significance and orientating power of the Church’s teaching may not be drawn into the relative and arbitrary here, nor may the significance of the individual conscience be weakened or indeed circumvented as the final subjective decision-making instance of the individual. In this tension, it is necessary to make the doctrine of the Church, in the sense of a responsible formation of conscience, repeatedly newly known but also comprehensible. The Magisterium is faced here by the challenge of repeatedly verifying, honestly and self-critically, whether the teaching really can be imparted to people in all aspects and differentiations. As was already the case with the questionnaire in the run-up to the Extraordinary Synod of 2014, the feedback from the dioceses once more points clearly here to the fact that, in particular, a number of sexual ethical aspects of the Church’s teaching are neither understood nor any longer accepted…

Somewhere in the middle of this argle bargle we find what I believe constitutes the all-important turning-point of morals: Am I humble enough to admit that I need moral teaching? If I am not, then what is the point of the Church trying to speak in a way that I will accept?

The inescapable fact for Mother Church, when it comes to teaching on sexual morals, is: Christ chaste. How can anyone or anything other than the chaste Christ serve as the foundation of our moral teaching?

Nothing else can. If I am willing to learn from Christ how to live, then what the Church says–what She has always said–about chastity will feel like cool water in a desert when it enters my mind. If I am not willing to learn from the chaste Christ how to live, then why would the Church bother trying to make sense to me? She never will anyway.

2. …Most couples live together for several years prior to a civil and church marriage, and regard marriage as a further, and certainly significant, stage in their lives together…Pastoral care that regards such unions as sinful pure and simple and accordingly calls for conversion is not helpful as it contradicts the positive experience that couples have in such living arrangements. Values such as love, faithfulness, responsibility for one another and for the children, reliability and willingness to reconcile are also practiced when people live together and in civil marriages, and these deserve recognition in a Christian context. Pastoral care should be provided to young people in particular, and this must appreciatively support and accompany their various attempts to enter into and practice relationships.

Again, a lot of argle bargle. The clearer version of this approach appeared in the next-to-last scene of “Open Secrets,” Blue Bloods, season 4.

Blue Bloods Erin and Nicky

Nicky: Just ask me, Mom.

Mom: What?

Nicky: Ask me if I’m having sex with Ben.

Mom: Are you?

No. But we have talked about it.


Come on, Mom, you can’t really be surprised. Most of my friends have already done it.

That is not a good enough reason to have sex for the first time. Do you love him?

I don’t know. I mean, he’s a really great guy, and I really care about him. And I feel like I’m ready. Go ahead, let me have it. (sighs)

Okay. Well, I am sorry to disappoint you, but I am not going to yell and scream. Do I wish that you would wait until you were sure if you were in love? Yes. But we both know that’s not up to me. You are a beautiful, smart young woman with good judgment. When the time is right, you will… make the right decision. And if you need to talk about anything, I am here.


…Dear reader, can I say it? Will you mind? This is BS.

Parents, grandparents, young people, all you dear people of God. I ask you, I beg you: If you ever hear me suggest that anything other than chastity before marriage can make you happy, punch me in the face.

Young people, do not have sex before marriage!

I would give my left kidney, my left lung, eye, and hand, if it would help all the young people I know and love to believe in themselves enough to follow Christ chaste to a truly happy life.

…Two other fundamental flaws with the German bishops’ responses:

1. They claim that the church in Germany is pro-life. But how obtuse in the area of embryology does a person have to be–to claim to be both pro-life and indifferent to the use of artificial contraception at the same time? It is impossible. Artificial contraception involves early abortion as a matter of course.

2. Jesus Christ does not openly appear anywhere in the document.

…Now, some Catholics seem to imagine that 2015 is 1963 all over again, when it comes to ‘ferment’ and ‘change’ in the Catholic Church. But this imagination ignores one very significant thing. A book that weighs approximately 1 ½ pounds. Compiled by the smartest German of them all.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church.

If we want to be the people who claim that Jesus is alive, the Catechism is our lifeblood. What the German bishops say? 85% bilge-water.

Encouraging Paragraphs

nvbookSorry. I have fallen a few months behind in my Nova et Vetera reading.

The concluding paragraphs from last fall’s “Theological Assessment” of Cardinal Kasper’s divorce-remarriage-communion plan:

Many of our contemporaries find themselves in the midst of great suffering. The sexual revolution has caused millions of casualties. They have deep wounds, hard to heal. Challenging as this situation is, it also represents an important apostolic opportunity for the Church. Human beings frequently have an awareness of their failings and even their guilt, but not of the remedy offered by the grace and mercy of Christ. Only the Gospel can truly fulfill the desires of the human heart and heal the deepest wounds present in our culture today.

The Church’s teaching on marriage, divorce, human sexuality, and chastity can be hard to receive. Christ himself saw this when he proclaimed it. However, this truth brings with it an authentic message of freedom and hope: there is a way out of vice and sin. There is a way forward that leads to happiness and love. Recalling these truths, the Church has reason to accept the task of evangelization in our own age with joy and hope.

How “Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation”s Came to Be

From the More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same File:

PAUL VI AND CARDINAL WOJTYLA CONVERSE AT VATICAN“…the duty of confirming the brethren…seems to us all the more noble and necessary…after the Third General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops…and we do so all the more willingly because it has been asked of us by the Synod Fathers themselves. In fact, at the end of that memorable Assembly, the Fathers decided to remit to the Pastor of the universal Church, with great trust and simplicity, the fruits of all their labors, stating that they awaited from him a fresh forward impulse… “ –Pope Paul VI, post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, paragraph 2 (1975).

Thus, the illustrious genre of papal post-synodal Apostolic Exhortations began.

Here’s how Peter Hebblethwaite, Paul VI’s biographer, summarizes what had happened in 1974:

“A new actor had entered the scene, whose importance was not recognized at the time. Frustrated in his desire to have a Synod on marriage, he was named Relator of the Synod on Evangelization…The Relator’s approach prevailed in the final document, with the effect that the Synod rejected it. The result was impasse. But not tragic…

“Everything was simply dumped in the papal lap, and Paul was invited to sort it all out. But since ‘informing the pope’ was one of the functions of the Synod, one could not say that collegiality had failed: better honest confusion than papering over the cracks. To the pope fell the task of synthesis.” –Hebblethwaite, Paul VI, pp. 626-27

And who was the ‘new actor,’ whose final document the Synod rejected, thus giving rise to the need for the pope to write an Apostolic Exhortation? Karol Cardinal Wojtyla.

Collegiality, a fancy word for trying to work together, began while the Lord Himself still walked the earth. And, as the Lord taught us, collegiality is only possible when—only possible; no collegiality, no co-ordination without: one loving father, who reigns supreme, who bears the burden of sorting everything out, and who demands obedience to what he decides.

Holy Father Francis called the synod of 2015, and Holy Father Francis will tell us what it means, when the time is right for us to know what it means.

In the meantime, much better to pray than to agitate oneself. The Church most certainly has been through all this before.